Category Archives: Cleveland

#164 – Soul Finger

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#164 – Soul Finger by The Bar-Kays

 – This song has me running in my mind. Notice the wording of that sentence. It’s not running through my mind, though it is at this moment. But I’m talking about running, like on a track team, which is something I haven’t done since Soul Finger was running on a regular basis on AM radio when it was released in the spring of 1967.

Thinking back to our favorite Top 40 stations in the 1960’s, instrumentals didn’t get a lot of respect from the deejays. Yeah, some were huge hits like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by Hugo Montenegro released in 1968 (not the same as the 1966 Clint Eastwood movie soundtrack version) and Love Is Blue by Paul Mauriat also in 1968.

But these hits were treated differently by our on-air hosts. They were played all the way through without deejay patter over the top.

What does that mean?

Radio deejays’ personalities were almost as popular – and sometimes more – than the songs they were playing. Murray The K, Cousin Brucie and Wolfman Jack are the first names that come to mind and were nationally known. Fans would tune in to hear those voices from those guys as much as the hit songs they’d play during their shows.

It was the same in local markets where competing Top 40 AM stations featured deejays fast-talking to be the most popular and listened-to. It would definitely be obnoxious and turn off listeners if they talked (patter) over songs with lyrics and we were trying to hear the words. So they’d normally hype their personalities and talk between songs and over instrumentals.

Memphis based soul

But even while playing songs with lyrics, there were still ways for deejays to get around this. Especially when they were playing a new release billed as exclusive to their station. That would be a big promotional scoop and it was important for their listeners to know.

This is how it would work:

Supposedly, the fantastically popular deejay would be given the next BIG hit by a current BIG artist before the record was sent to rival stations. His job was to make sure we knew that, while also preventing another station from taping the song and scooping this exclusive by also playing it on air.

What do I mean by that?

Two examples come to mind. When The Byrds released Turn! Turn! Turn!, a station in my northern Ohio listening area had the exclusive. During the song’s instrumental break, the deejay would announce, “You’re listening to this exclusive on…” and mention his station.

Before The Beatles’ Nowhere Man hit the stores, the same station was granted the exclusive rights in our region. But instead of waiting for the instrumental break, this is how I remember it coming from my transistor radio:

  • Beatles (singing): He’s a real nowhere man…
  • Deejay: “The Beatles!”
  • Beatles: … sitting in his nowhere land…
  • Deejay: “Only on (mentioned the station)!”
  • Beatles: … making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Yeah, it was a bit annoying, but didn’t stop us from listening. Especially since tuning in to this station was the only way we could hear it. At the time I was a preteen with a small reel to reel tape recorder. I knew the song would be played at least once every hour, so I’d hold the tiny microphone in front of the tiny transistor radio speaker so I could have my own exclusive copy before my friends. I’d hit record when I knew the next song was about to play. If it wasn’t Nowhere Man, I’d stop the tape, rewind and wait for the next song.

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I didn’t know the definition of bootlegging, but it wouldn’t have stopped me anyway. Eventually within the hour, I scored a decent copy. After that I kept the play – rewind – play – rewind cycle going on my tape recorder until it hit the stores a week or two later and I could get my hands on a vinyl 45 rpm copy.

But that bootlegged version made a lasting impression. Every once in a while, all these decades later I’ll hear Nowhere Man and unconsciously add the deejay’s patter between the opening lyrics as if that’s how The Fabs recorded it in the first place.

And yeah, sometimes it’s a bit annoying.

The Bar-Kays released the instrumental Soul Finger in April 1967. It became a legitimate hit and not only because it’s a catchy tune, but like the exclusive Nowhere Man we probably heard it every hour. But for a different reason.

Deejays could lay down their fast-talking patter over it.

Soul Finger was a song deejays weren’t afraid to talk over. So, when they’d segue into the news and weather report every hour, which was a common break on AM radio back in the 60’s, they’d play The Bar-Kays hit. Most of the time the entire song wouldn’t be heard because there may have been less than a minute before the break, so it was used as an instrumental lead-in.

During this time, they’d fast-talk announcements about upcoming concerts, benefits, promo for stores, restaurants, car dealers – whatever. The song would fade out – wherever – and the news report would begin.

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Since we were still glued to our AM dials, multiple listens of a catchy tune is a sure way to have it burned into your mind. That’s the only explanation for Soul Finger joining this Dream Songs list on September 14th. I can’t remember the last time I heard it and since I don’t own a copy, it goes onto the subliminal memory chart.

Fortunately, there was no fast-talking deejay patter included.

Other than that annoying programming habit, Soul Finger brings back one specific memory that rewinds us back to the beginning of this Classic Rocker rambling. You remember, where I’m running in my mind…

When Soul Finger was running us into hourly AM radio news breaks during spring 1967, I was in my last year of junior high and running on the eighth grade track team. As an athlete I had two natural abilities. I could run fast and jump high, which is also how I scored a starting position on our junior high basketball team. I know for a fact that was the case since dribbling or shooting a basketball was never priority after I scored my first guitar.

Off the blocks!

There was a guy on the track team who was supposedly my friend. I don’t remember how that came about since we really had nothing in common. But that’s not important because we were just kids and by high school had moved on to different cliques.

Anyway, there must have been some type of envy (jealousy) on his part. He wanted to be an athlete while I wanted to be a rock star. But I had beat him out as a starter on the basketball team and was doing the same at track. I found out he hadn’t been too pleased about either.

We were getting ready to run against a rival school in the fifty-yard dash. This was my main event and I honestly don’t remember anyone else on our team that could beat me – especially this friend. If you know anything about sprint races, we used starting blocks, which were metal contraptions you placed on the track behind the starting line. Runners would crouch down, put their feet against the blocks and use them to push-off at the start of the race.

Maybe most of the blocks were being used in other events, but when we were getting ready for mine this friend grabbed the last contraption before I could. When I said something about this, he gave me a pretty hard look and said, “I’m faster than you,” and took a running lane with the other starting block sprinters. I had to take an outside lane and an almost standing position waiting for the starter’s gun to kick off the race.

And yeah, I kicked it during the race – meaning that friend’s butt. I don’t remember if I actually won the race against the other school, but I smoked (athlete’s term for winning) him. Afterward I just remember him storming away from me like a bad sport. He wouldn’t talk or even look at me. It’s probably best he didn’t because I might have flipped him a soul finger.

If you know what I mean.

Otis Redding & The Bar-Kays

On a very sad note, this was the only hit by the original members of The Bar-Kays.

That same spring, they were picked by the legendary Otis Redding to be his touring backup band. On December 10, 1967 following a television appearance on Upbeat and a concert in Cleveland, four of the six members lost their lives with Redding when their plane crashed into Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin.

The only survivor was trumpet player Ben Cauley. He later reformed the group with bass player James Alexander who had been on a different plane.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of the original Bar-Kays performing Soul Finger.

 

 

To purchase Soul Finger (the album or single) by The Bar-Kays visit Amazon.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing

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#167 – Would You Like To Swing On A Star?

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#167 – Would You Like To Swing On A Star? by Bing Crosby – but I learned it from a cartoon!

Not the cartoon!

– There’s a good chance this version of The Classic Rocker will come off sounding like it was written by a five or six year old kid. There’s a good reason – since that’s the age this golden oldie imbedded itself into my memory bank and has stayed buried in there ever since.

Would You Like To Swing On A Star? (officially titled Swinging On A Star) has nothing to do with Classic Rock. I’m sure we both know that and there’s no way to twist and turn any chord progression, lyric, meaning or artist’s rendition to make it fit that category. The original was by Bing Crosby in 1944 and Frank Sinatra also famously crooned it sometime later. But as I’ve made clear in past ramblings and even in About Dream Songs the only requirement for making this list is to have it running through my mind when I wake up in the morning.

Classic Cinema

In this case, my subconscious must have been deep into an alternate playlist when I opened my eyes to join the real world on September 6th. Since it has been so long since I’ve heard this song and it stretches so far back in my past, I’ll compare that night’s sleep to a journey in a time machine. And since I just made that reference, I’ll go ahead and wonder if the movie The Three Stooges Meet Hercules might have been an unconscious influence. It was one of my favorite films in 1962 and even inspired me to invent my own time machine out of cardboard boxes (it didn’t work). And since it was from the same era I’m about to visit in this Classic Rocker confession, I’ll go ahead and group the movie and song together and call it a major mind-blast from the past.

As a baby boomer, I’m among the first generation to grow up with a television in the house. I never knew life without one, just like kids today have no experience in a world without computers or cell phones. We’ve been described as having televisions instead of babysitters, but it really wasn’t any different than our parents and grandparents sitting around the house and listening to the radio. It was just another form of entertainment like online games and streaming videos are today.

Remote controlled flight

Except our graphics weren’t as good as what my kids are watching and if someone mentioned “remote controls” we probably thought they were referring to an episode of The Jetsons. That’s a good reason why my kids compare my childhood experiences to The Flintstones.

At four years old I graduated (yeah, there was a ceremony) from nursery school and was shipped off to afternoon kindergarten the next school year. The school also had morning kindergarten, but my parents must have already recognized my night owl tendencies. To this day I have a difficult time putting words together before noon, but can come off as a semi-genius after lunch.

So up until around 1 pm every weekday, I took mornings easy with lunch in front of the television before heading off to the afternoon grind of organized playgrounds, crafts and nap time. Then after graduating (yeah, there was a ceremony) my system was sent into total shock the next year when first grade was an all-day experience with a starting time somewhere around the outrageously early hour of 8 am.

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Luckily, I lived close enough to the school during the early boomer era when it was actually safe for a first grader to walk home alone for lunch. Since we lived not far away in an apartment above the family business, I could take almost the full hour to eat and watch television because my grandpa would take a break from work to drive me back to school. This cut out the time needed for me to walk back and also use the authority I assumed by being his only grandchild at the time.

In other words, I’d ask grandpa to drive me around the block a few times before I had to go back into the school. He always did.

Captain Penny

For kids my age in the Cleveland, Ohio viewing area a local legendary character, Captain Penny, hosted our lunchtime “must watch” television show. In the real world his name was Ron Penfound and he starred in his own kid’s show from 1955 until 1971. Captain Penny dressed as a railroad engineer with hat, gloves and neckerchief and was as popular with us little kids as The Beatles would be years later with us teenagers.

He is also the one who introduced us to The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals and cartoon shorts. All these had been popular with generations before us, but since this was still the days of having only three television channels and not a lot of original programming (old movies were still shown in primetime), this was our main source of broadcast entertainment.

Captain Penny would caution us after each Three Stooges short to “Don’t do this at home.” And at the end of his show he made sure we all knew, “You can fool anyone – but you can’t fool mom.

The cartoons we watched (broadcast in black and white) had been movie shorts our parents watched in theaters when they were little kids. Popeye The Sailor was big among Captain Penny aficionados, along with another character that didn’t seem to last as long…

Lulu and Tubby

Little Lulu was a mischievous little girl who had a best friend, Tubby Tompkins. They were also the popular stars of comic books, which were also a major source of entertainment since pictures were easier to read than our first grade See Spot Run books. I remember having a major collection of comics stuffed into a small closet in our small apartment. I’d open the door and stacks would spill out onto the floor where I’d sit and read before stuffing them back into the closet to be saved.

A lot of these comics were saved for so long that more than a few decades later I cashed in by selling many on eBay. I would’ve definitely needed a time machine made from something other than cardboard boxes to imagine that business endeavor while stuffing comics back into the closet when it was time to watch Captain Penny.

But wait. Even though the memory bank is running on full, it’s about to take a U-turn…

Between 1957 and 1963 there was a popular primetime sitcom called The Real McCoys. It starred movie character actor Walter Brennan as Grand Pappy Amos McCoy and future movie character actor Richard Crenna as his son Luke McCoy. Kathleen Nolan played Luke’s wife Kate and their kids were Hassie and Little Luke. The farmhand, since they lived on a farm, was Pepino.

Yeah, I remember all that. As mentioned, the brain is running on full right now.

It was about a family moving from West Virginia to California. It was sort of like The Beverly Hillbillies, but without a mansion and Mr. Drysdale to watch the money.

The show also had a VERY catchy theme song that is about to merge with Little Lulu and Bing Crosby. You can check it out here…

 

 

Probably more times than I should admit to during nursery school, kindergarten and first grade while sitting in front of the tube, I watched Captain Penny show us a Little Lulu cartoon – probably more times than he would’ve like to admit – where she skips school to go fishing. In a dream-like sequence, Would You Like To Swing On A Star? is heard (with a brief visit from a cartoon Bing) while she swings on a star in the night sky and warned she could end up as a pig or a fish if she doesn’t get back to school.

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The song stuck in my head and I’ve never been able to shake it out. But the words got… sort of… mixed up with The Real McCoys Theme Song.

Yeah, I already know. Complicated…

So the version of Would You Like To Swing On A Start? running through my much older mind was the same one that has been with me since a very, VERY much younger time. It’s a combo of the two already mentioned, with some added lyrics from a very inventive five or six year old kid.

A Bout With A Trout!

So if you know the tune, feel free to sing along:

Would you like to swing on a star
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
Would you like to be as you are
Or would you rather be a pig
A pig is an animal with zillions of feet
Roars like a lion but is gentle as a lamb
And now here’s Luke who beams with joy
As he makes Kate Mrs. Luke McCoy
Da da da da dada da da da
Or would you rather be a pig?

So there you go. After all this rambling from a Classic Rocker, the beginning musical seeds were seemingly planted by Little Lulu, Captain Penny, Bing Crosby and Grand Pappy Amos McCoy. Who would’ve ever thought that?

Have a comment (or memory)?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

And who would’ve ever thought we could actually sit back today and watch the cartoon – drawn in the 1940’s – that had such an influence? No need to bring back The Three Stooges and a working time machine because we have the internet. Here’s Little Lulu learning a life lesson to Would You Like To Swing On A Star? The full length cartoon is called A Bout With A Trout and can be found on YouTube.

You might enjoy that also because it includes the catchy Little Lulu Theme Song. I remember it, but that would turn into another long story…

 

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

#170 – Purple Haze

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#170 – Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Like chewing aluminum foil. I’ll let that roll around in your mind for a moment…

This might be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but Jimi Hendrix wasn’t an instant, overnight success. His earliest records released in England during 1967 were not exactly hits, even though other rock musicians were taking notice. On May 29th he opened a concert in London with the song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were in attendance and more than impressed since the LP had been released only three days earlier. That moment has been written and talked about countless times since because Hendrix is such a legend.

But at that time in 1967 he wasn’t… yet.

On June 3rd Sgt. Pepper was released in the U.S. and organizers for the Monterey Pop Festival starting two weeks later were doing their best to coax The Beatles into performing. They turned it down, but Paul McCartney suggested Jimi Hendrix. They went for it and that’s when the legend started becoming real.

At least for the people that were there.

Let me stand next to your fire!

For many younger teenagers living near the northern Ohio metropolis of Cleveland, now home to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we didn’t hear much (if anything at all) about this legendary rock ‘n’ roll event. This was before Rolling Stone Magazine started covering the hippie scene for those of us thousands of miles away and the film Monterey Pop with Jimi’s legend-making guitar burning performance didn’t even come out until December 1968. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it until it made my university’s late night film lineup during the 1970’s.

Hendrix’s album Are You Experienced with Purple Haze was released in late August 1967. And since none of the songs were played on our reliable Top 40 AM “pop” radio stations, we pretty much had no idea who Jimi Hendrix was.

But during that same Summer Of Love, riots in Detroit forced my grandmother to get the heck out of Dodge. With army snipers on the roof of her apartment building near the Detroit River, she caught a Greyhound Bus and made it to our isolated niche on the shores of Lake Erie. When the fires simmered down we drove through the battle zone, packed up her stuff and moved her into an apartment near us.

It was around this time I started hearing rumors about underground music on FM radio stations.

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Since grandmothers are usually programmed never to say “No” to their favorite grandchildren, she allowed me to commandeer her FM stereo radio. Not long before this, FM was pretty much a wasteland for teenage pop music fans by featuring talk, easy listening music, weather and news. The older generations might have tuned in, but boomers were only within hearing range when we were stuck in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room playing FM stations that numbed us to near-death with background elevator muzak.

Through grandma’s radio I listened to songs by groups that were leading us from pop to rock. This included the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the songs Purple Haze, Fire and Foxy Lady. It was called psychedelic and sounded electric, heavy, soulful and very cool.

I was hooked.

In early winter 1968 mom and dad took my sister and me to New York City to visit our Radio City Rockette cousin. Thanks to a lake effect snowstorm that shut down the Cleveland airport, we boarded a passenger train for a twelve hour ride to Grand Central Station. Somewhere near Rockefeller Center between watching shows by the high kicking Rockettes, I wandered into a record store and saw Are You Experienced.

I bought it.

After an all night train ride home spending as much time looking at the LP cover as I did looking out the window, I finally had the chance to rip off the plastic wrapping and put it on the turntable of our family stereo. This might also be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but a stereo in many boomer’s homes during the 1950’s and 60’s doubled as a piece of furniture. So I was a bit surprised when my parents allowed me to commandeer the stereo and move it into my bedroom for my own personal use. They didn’t mind rock ‘n’ roll (after all, they had taken me to see The Beatles), but this gave them a better chance to hear what was on their FM stations when I listened to Jimi’s guitar feedback behind my closed bedroom door.

But similar to discovering Jimi Hendrix at the age of fourteen, I realized my room wasn’t cool enough for this new music. Hendrix also had a look and my room had none.

Sometime that summer I found a psychedelic poster of Jimi Hendrix with the words, “Like chewing aluminum foil.” My first impression was that it was funny. But it was also different and seemed very cool.

I bought it.

But it needed a better display than just being hung up in my room, so I also bought a blue light bulb. Don’t misunderstand. This was not a blue light that could be paired up with a lava lamp to turn any kid’s bedroom into a hippie hang out. It was exactly what I said it was – a blue light bulb. I slid open my closet door, pushed the clothes on hangers as far to the side as possible, tacked up my Jimi Hendrix poster and replaced the regular light bulb (with a pull string to turn it on) with the blue bulb.

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I had a cool room.

When my pals came over I would open the closet door, push aside the clothes, pull on the blue light bulb string, and play Are You Experienced. Oh yeah… we thought we were very cool.

Purple Haze joined this Dream Song list on September 2nd. I still own my original vinyl album, but in the years since have added it to my digital playlist. And since I had just heard it, the song joins the recent memory list.

Like chewing aluminum foil? Yeah, since we weren’t really that cool you should know what’s coming…

During this phase of our high school careers, my best pal Kevin and I were pretty much inseparable. We were about fourteen or fifteen years old and if I wasn’t at his house he was at mine. We’d ride our bikes around town looking for great adventures and throw parties so we could talk-up the cute girls in our class. On weekends we’d sleep over at one of our houses so we could stay up all night watching the dumbest movies we could find on television.

Actually, we were pretty bright kids and really didn’t get into any trouble. But then again, even smart kids can be dumber than the dumbest…

One night with my Jimi Hendrix poster displayed in it’s (not that cool) blue light, we started debating what like chewing aluminum foil really meant. Was Hendrix trying to tell us something? Was it about the music or the experience?

There was only one way to find out.

We walked into the kitchen, took out two pieces of aluminum foil, popped them into our mouths and bit down. Maybe it had to do with having one or two metal tooth fillings that were popular with muzak-listening dentists in the 1960’s, but there is only one way to describe the sensation.

OUCH!!!!!

If you’ve ever made the claim that you’ll try anything once in your life – cross this one off your list. It was like having a jolt of Jimi Hendrix electric guitar feedback screaming through every nerve ending connecting our jaws to our brains. We couldn’t spit it out fast enough while trying to muffle our cries of agony so we wouldn’t wake up my mom and dad. It was bad enough to learn how dumb we could be without letting my parents in on the realization.

Decades later I can still dredge up the pain like a bad acid flashback – even though I’ve never taken acid. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to stick a live electric wire your mouth, it’s…

Like chewing aluminum foil.

To this day if Kevin and I see each other all we have to say is, “LCAF.” Believe me, the impression was lasting and we both know exactly what we’re referring to.

The legend-making part of Jimi Hendrix’s career was also a short explosion that only lasted only a few years. He died in September 1970 while I was still in high school and at a time when some rock stars were only just starting to figure out there might be a dark side to doing drugs – and teenagers learned not to chew aluminum foil.

But we didn’t stop playing his records. Like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and a certain few other legends of the rock world, Hendrix still seems to be relevant. He is still referred to as one of the best – if not THE best – rock guitar player and innovator. He changed the music forever.

He also changed the way I look at aluminum foil. LCAF.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

For a live performance video of Purple Haze by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, check this out…

To purchase Are You Experienced with Purple Haze visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing